Unique Dynamic Gives Obama Upper Hand in Tompkins
Ithaca’s “10 square miles surrounded by reality” seemed to encompass the whole of Tompkins County on Super Tuesday when Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) soundly defeated Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) in the county’s Democratic primary. But the question remains: how?
Despite losses in every other county throughout the state, Obama finished with a nearly 17-point lead over home-stater Clinton in Tompkins. Across the rest of New York, Clinton received 57 percent of the Democratic vote, while Obama was awarded only 40 percent.
Yet for many reasons, Democratic voters in Tompkins often fit neatly into the Obama constituency because of their values and his message. According to Irene Stein, chair of the Democratic Committee of Tompkins County, two big factors swayed the primary in favor of Obama — voter demographics and war opposition.
Ithaca Currency Keeps Money Local
Small World Music, a used record shop that sits at the end of a narrow driveway off State Street, describes its assortment of songs as “the music Ithaca loves.” In a way, the record shop is a microcosm of Ithaca with its emphasis on local business and its laid-back atmosphere.
Steve Burke, the owner of Small World Music, has worked to sustain this small-town culture. As a founder and president of the board of Ithaca Hours Inc., an Ithaca-specific currency used as a means of bartering, Burke has tried to improve the local economy by bringing business to Ithaca stores, restaurants and citizens offering various services.
One “Ithaca Hour” is worth 10 U.S. dollars, since the average hourly wage in Ithaca was 10 dollars when the Ithaca Hours program was created in 1991. Hours can be spent or earned like U.S. currency. In order to become a member of Ithaca Hours Inc. and begin using the currency, one must simply fill out an application.
Currently, over 600 businesses and individuals are registered members of Ithaca Hours.
Controversy Erupts Over Contaminated Ithaca Gun Factory Site
On May 30, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced the closure of a long and precarious chapter in the City of Ithaca’s history.
The DEC, in cooperation with Mayor Carolyn Peterson and the City of Ithaca, developers Frost Travis and owner Wally Diehl and a previous pledge by the state, has authored a final resolution for the Ithaca Gun Factory site, which has been left stagnating above the rushing waters of Ithaca Falls for the past 125 years.
The Ithaca Gun Company manufactured guns and munitions at the site, located at 121-125 Lake Street, from 1880 until declaring bankruptcy in 1986. The company was responsible for much of the early industry in Tompkins County. Yet evidence gathered during the past decade has indicated the continued presence of a range of hazardous substances including asbestos, lead, arsenic, mercury, trichloroethylene and even uranium in “unknown quantities,” according to the DEC’s Environmental Site Remediation website.
Until now, all attempts made in the past 10 years by the Environmental Protection Agency, the DEC, the City of Ithaca, representatives of Cornell University and various owners of the property to find a solution for the site have been unsuccessful. These prior attempts include the Environmental Protection Agency’s $4.8 million “removal action” between 2000 and 2004 which left some areas heavily contaminated and others — including the Fall Creek area below — critically susceptible to re-contamination due to erosion.
The $3.02 million, public-private partnership aims not to only fully remediate the Gun factory site, but also to return its view of Fall Creek gorge, Ithaca Falls and Lake Cayuga to the public eye by means of “Ithaca Falls Overlook Park.” The developers have also donated a portion of land for the Ithaca Falls Overlook Park.
A private pledge of over 11 million dollars from a voluntary cleanup program and private funding from Diehl, will transform the condemned building with its crumbling walls, colorful graffiti and iconic smokestack reading “Ithaca Gun” into 33 high-end condominiums.
Community members and involved parties are optimistic that the total project, estimated at $14,213,000, will give this hazardous history a healthier future.
Ithaca Monastery Expands Facilities
At first glance it looks like every other house on Aurora Street with icicles hanging from the eaves and a red brick chimney. But what lies inside is anything but ordinary — the Dalai Lama’s North American headquarters, his only central hub outside of Asia — The Namgyal Monastery.
“We are the North American seat of His Holiness,” said Ted Arnold, former president of the board of directors of the monastery.
So why Ithaca? According to Arnold, there was a lottery of Tibetan refugees to gain citizenship to come to Ithaca in the early ’90s, and Ithaca set up a few dozen of them, creating a Tibetan community. Shortly after the lottery, a local publication company — Snow Lion Publications, who had a relationship with the Dalai Lama — brought His Holiness here for his ’91 visit.
According to Arnold, the Dalai Lama is planning to visit the new facility, and will be back in Ithaca as soon as it is completed. The Dalai Lama visited C.U. in October of last year.